People usually think of ants as a nuisance, but they really aren’t that different from us. Listed below are a few of the behaviors we share.
Ants are gardeners. Leaf Cutter ants clip plant parts, which they then use to grow fungus in fungus gardens deep in the ground. The colony feeds on the fungus. Our gardens tend to be above ground, but we, too, eat fungus.
Ants are farmers. Ants of many species have a special relationship with aphids, a tiny, herbivorous insect. The ants protect and look after the aphids. In return, aphids secrete “honeydew” for the ants to eat or store. The ants stroke the aphids to stimulate the release of honeydew, similar to what we do when we milk a cow. Aphids are sometimes called “ant cows.”
Ants get drunk and act stupid, causing their friend ants to throw them in puddles of water. Many insects become “drunk” from feeding on rotting fruit, and the ant is no exception. The first recorded experiment involving ants and inebriation is found in the book, “Ants, Bees and Wasps, A Record of Observations on the Habits of the Social Hymenoptera,” by Sir John Lubbock, published in 1884. Lubbock’s experiment involved 41 intoxicated ants. The ants that were not intoxicated carried 32 of their staggering friends back to the nest. The other nine inebriated ants were thrown in puddles of water, presumably to sober them up.
Ants have soldiers to protect their colonies. Soldier ants are usually larger than worker ants. One type of soldier ant might be considered a “suicide bomber.” The Malaysian ant, also known as the exploding ant, is as small as an ordinary ant, but its body is lined with poison sacks. When faced with a threat, the Malaysian ant contracts muscles that pressurize the poison sacks and then it literally explodes, spraying the toxic substance everywhere. If the predator is small enough, the toxin can kill it. If the predator survives, it will surely hesitate to approach another ant.
Ants have already experienced a Zombie Apocalypse, according to www.mypestprevention.com. A parasitic fungus, Ophiocordyceps, attacks ants in the Thai rain forest. The fungus fills the ants’ heads with fungal cells, which somehow control the ants’ behavior. The normally tree-dwelling ants go to the ground and stagger to a spot “chosen” by the fungus. The ants then clamp their jaws onto a leaf and hold on until sunset when they will grow a spore-releasing stalk, shed spores, and die. Waiting until sundown allows the fungal spores to settle overnight, ensuring more of them will survive to infect other ants. The zombie ants all arrive at the chosen spot around noon and they all expire around sundown.
Ants are slaveholders. Slave Maker ants attack other colonies and force the inhabitants into slavery. A typical colony of 3,000 Slave Makers ants may contain 6,000 slaves, according to www.cals.ncsu.edu. The slave ants feed and care for the Slave Makers and their queen.
Ants have graveyards in their colonies. When an ant dies inside the nest, a team of undertaker ants remove the body to a designated chamber. Dead ants release a chemical that alerts the others to their demise.
Ants have a welfare system. One ant species spends almost its entire life riding on the backs of other ants. Although they contribute nothing to the colony, the riders are tolerated and even fed, according to “The Behavior of Ants” found at www.arizona.edu.